Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Randa Farah


In this dissertation, I examine the experiences of Somali children and youth in both state sponsored and community educational spaces in North America to investigate how these experiences shape their identities and worldviews in the context of displacement, prolonged armed conflict in Somalia, and a post-September 11 environment.

This work is based on two years of preliminary research (2008-2010) and 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork among Somali youth and their families in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto, Ontario and Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota (2010-2011). I draw on life history interviews and focus group sessions of 51 Somali children and youth between the ages of 14-30 as well as interviews and focus groups with 24 Somali elders, mothers, fathers, educators, and community leaders.

Using popular memory and post-colonial approaches to examine the experiences of displaced children and youth in educational spaces, I make two interrelated arguments. First, the North American view that Somali children and youth are simultaneously ‘at risk’ and ‘the risk’ is inseparable from the larger ‘War on Terror’ led by the US, in which Muslims including Somalis are perceived and treated as potential terrorists or its victims. The ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘risk’ discourse in Western societies have been fostering Islamophobia, as well as obscuring the involvement of powerful Western states in either creating or spurring conflicts, resulting in massive displacements. The risk discourse has another consequence: it conceals or dismisses the strengths and capabilities of Somali children and youth. Furthermore, by perceiving Somali children and youth in terms of risk their real experiences in Canada and the US are obscured. This includes their experiences of structural violence, including poverty, access to education, unemployment or underemployment, and Somalis’ positions in gender and racial hierarchies. My second argument is that contrary to popular perception that Somali youth are experiencing an identity crisis, my research reveals that youth are actively engaged in reshaping their social and political identities, negotiating and questioning their past and present, imagining their future, and granting meaning to their experiences in state sponsored and community educational spaces.